1996--Returning home after trying to rescue my mother from my mother.
After coming home the second time from California, things began to settle down and sink in.
I was encumbered, relieved and excited by this copious family material that I suddenly had in my possession. The letters, the photos, the newspaper clippings, the short stories by my brother Phillip written in his hand. I marveled at the letters. It became all so fascinating to me yet all so painful. One late August evening I was going through some of Philips things and came across a tape of John Gary. Philip would listen to John Gary. In particular ‘Unchained Melody’, sung beautifully by Gary. Philip would listen to it over and over. My mother, Philip and I would sit in our apartment on 82nd in the late 1960’s and listen to it over and over.
I put it on and began to sift through family photos, coming across a photo of the four of us in London. It was from a series of publicity shots celebrating the birth of my brother to “South Pacific’s singing star Wilbur Evans” for London’s ‘The Evening News’ dated September 20, 1952. Phillip two weeks old, me barely two years old and my mother and father beaming. I suddenly began to weep uncontrollably, I mean gut weeping for many minutes.....I was weeping...grieving for my brother which I had barely ever done.......I was weeping ...for my mother, I was weeping for my father, I was weeping for the family in that photo, where in that photo, it seemed, that the nano-second of flashing light was as close as we ever got, I was weeping for the years of pain, chaos and confusion....the loss. The weeping was good. It seemed to me that I was on a divergent path. A snails path. A path of ancestral responsibility? Why me?
Old, saffroned, crumbly newspapers with that musty smell I always had a particular fascination with. They held time, they held history as it happened, a simple wisdom, an aromatic wisdom? Now suddenly I had dozens of these articles of not just history but of my family’s history, with a revered sense of a family connection.... ancestral responsibility? Why me?
During this time, once a month on Thursdays evenings, Marianne Williamson would lecture at the Town Hall up on W. 43st. Marianne has had several bestsellers, “Return To Love”, “The Healing Of America”, Illuminata, lecturing frequently on matters of the heart and spirituality. I had heard her before , enjoyed her ideas.
This evening that I left the Bobst Library , it was a Thursday and Marianne was scheduled. Although I was tired, beat, I headed on up to catch her message.
On this particular night (as with every other night I’d seen her) it was crowded and the line flowed out into the street and down the sidewalk. I was tired and irritated and just not sure I wanted to be there, considering an early evening train ride home. My sense for “stand in line martyrdom” prevailed and I joined the rank.
After getting in and finding my seat, I found that my two disgruntled comrades on the line chose seats next to me. As the murmuring crowd settled in with anticipation for Marianne, the younger gal and I began some chatty small talk,....... she asked where I was from? I told her I lived upstate but was originally from the city...she asked where in the city? I said 82nd and
Marianne said her peace and as we began to file out...the
I called “Jaymie” the next day and before I tell you of the resulting fireworks, angelic violins and cosmic howls encircling this call, I must put forth a little history.....
While Susanna was under contract with
These were names I would always hear as a child...You know, when you were a little kid your parents would talk about certain friends and family. Like a printer’s iron template on the psyche of a five year old, these names I could never forget…..Barbara and Portia.
In my first stages of my Comeback (1988), three years after my brother’s death and after 'temporarily' placing the kids in foster care (at this time I had already gained custody of Eric, and Brittney’s custody would follow the next year)....I was visiting with a counselor, I noticed something on the wall:
An Autobiography In Five Short Chapters
I- I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall
in I am lost...I am helpless It isn't my fault. It takes forever to find
a way out.
II- I walk down the same street. There's a deep hole in the sidewalk. I
pretend I don't see it. I fall in again. I can't believe I am in the
same place but it isn't my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.
III- I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I
see it is there. I still fall in...it's a habit. My eyes are open. I
know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.
IV-I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I
walk around it.
V- I walk down another street.
The author at the bottom of the page was.....Portia Nelson.
Portia Nelson!!....I ‘shared’ with my counselor that my mother had a dear friend....Portia Nelson! I figured how many Portia Nelsons could there be....this must be the same woman....!
I asked for a copy and got several. This therapist seemed to love the copier, any chance she had to make a copy and then some...she would.
Over the years in my comeback process, I would come across Autobiography in Five Short Chapters ....self-help books, the counseling milieu etc...
It was the quintessential definition of insanity; “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results...” and the path away from it.
Over the years Autobiography In 5 Short Chapters would always hang somewhere in my home helping to ever remind me of my own path through insanity.
Back to my phone call with “82st and Columbus Ave. Jaymie”: We shared the obligatory incidentals....I asked her “Who was the older woman with you?... your mom?” she says, “no, that’s my friend.............. Portia Nelson”.
Well let me tell you, this is where the angelic violins and cosmic howls swirled and thrusted me from my seat!
My God! Portia Nelson!..... And Jaymie from Eighty Duece!....centimeters from where I grew up!! .....Eighty Duece?! oh geesh, forget centimeters........this was it........ .....my turf.....my roots......signed, sealed and delivered.
With all that had happened regarding Susanna and our family history that year....the Universe suddenly decides to open this vortex and plop Portia and Jaymie in my lap!
Yikes....Much to say and recall from this time....I simply am not sure how to put it all in the right EMOTIONAL context to begin to get this Portia/Jaymie vortex thing down, down on the hard drive. These past years...the wind and waves of the Portia vortex continue, pushing the envelope of synchrondipity a wee further........let me go on....
Well Jaymie and I were abit taken aback by this “coincidence”....well, really....for me, forget taken aback.....I was pridefully catatonic for days.
Jaymie and I would begin to date.....believing that the Gods (and Jaymie’s angels) with all their wisdom and heavenly orchestrations, put us together for a reason. More on presumed destiny….awee later.
After getting off the phone with Jaymie, I heard from Portia about an hour later, remember..... the last time I saw Portia I was about seven years old.
She was just as excited as I was...(now in her eighties) ...she told me where she had gone with her career.... appearing in several motion pictures; Sarah Doolittle in Dr. Doolittle, Sister Elizabeth in The Trouble with Angels with Rosalind Russell, Sister Berthe in The Sound of Music....among others, years on the soap All My Children, author, painter, a well respected cabaret ‘diva’ on the city scene (I later learned) . Composing many songs.....she authored “Make a Rainbow” performed by Marilyn Horne at Bill Clinton’s first inaugural.